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Christmas 1959 Part 2

December 22, 2011
by

I hardly slept that night and was up even before my mother. I made sure every chore I could do was finished and even spent some time on the dreaded holiday homework project. I wanted nothing to delay my helping dad finish the platform. I think I should digress a bit for those that don’t have the foggiest idea what a train platform is all about. For most people these days trains are bought in a box with ‘everything needed’ printed in large letters on the side of that box. Well in the 50’s it was a quantum leap different. Everything was done from scratch, almost like cooking. Back then cooks preferred to make pies from scratch and had there own recipes today most cooks prefer to buy the cake already made, mostly because they do not have the time or patience to bake it themselves.

For the true train platform back then you bought the trains, cars, track, controllers, switches, buildings and accessories separately. Some enthusiasts even constructed the buildings ‘from scratch’. It was a labor of love, a hobby an avocation and one did it piece by piece. In our house the empty train platform was usually first put up the day after Thanksgiving. My dad and a few of his friends from the VFW or work would get together and move all the furniture out of the dining room. Then they would build the wooden horses that supported the two 4×8 sheets of plywood. They would use enormous screws to anchor the plywood to the horses, and at that point when additional help wasn’t needed anymore they would go back to our basement to ‘hang out’. This usually meant a couple hours of drinking beer and playing cards.

Work on the train platform between Thanksgiving and Christmas eve was my fathers domain. The only thing besides watching, and in his words learning, that he allowed me to do was to carry the seemingly endless number of boxes down from the attic to the dining room, from which my father would lovingly remove the trains, track and accessories. I also knew quite well that he has already run the engine and train making sure most of the layout was in operation. Because late on weekend nights I would get out of bed and creep like a ninja to the head of the stairs and watch my dad connect the wires and run the train around the platform, checking each switch and accessory.

But like everything in life the day was here, my day to make the last connections and add some grass and snow on the layout and “test” the trains. At times like this I felt like some ‘little kid’ opening his presents from Santa Claus on Christmas morning. Dad called me over told me which accessories still needed to be wired and handed me the bags of colored sawdust for the grass, snow and roadways and said, do a good job and headed down to the basement. I was in total shock, I didn’t understand at first, and thought he forgot something and was going downstairs to retrieve it. But as he opened the door to the basement he turned and, I swear I could see a smile, said what are you waiting for and went down the steps.

This was unheard of, monumental in the annals of the history of our platform. He was leaving me to finish the platform. I knew he considered this a crucial step, because any sloppy work would make the platform look ‘cheesy’, he used to say. Like some store front train platform done by workers in a hurry to get home. Now he had put this awesome responsibility in my hands. Gradually at first I made the final connections then I started to add the imitation grass and roads making sure they were done with care as if he were sitting there telling me what to do. I finished with a lite dusting of snow and was ready to “test” the trains.

 

I waited and waited, but still he did not come back up from the basement. Mom had already started our Christmas eve dinner and only when she called down to him that dinner was almost ready did he come lumbering back to the dining room and look at the work I had done.

The tense silence stretched as I just stood there and waited………..

He said “Peter you did a fine job and I believe your old enough now to be responsible for the for putting up the whole platform, good work”. I swear I could see a tear in his eye as he gave me a hug and said, come-on son, hard work deserves a good dinner.

51 years later remembering my father’s expressions and words on that Christmas eve

makes him live again…

…..in my mind and heart.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Daddy permalink*
    December 22, 2011 11:44 am

    Wow. That’s reeeeaaaaally nice. Makes me like trains even more.

    I guess every family has a Christmas story, and these are the best because we make them ourselves, and they are ours to keep.

    Like

  2. TexasJim permalink
    December 22, 2011 9:42 pm

    Great story Pete. My Christmas story remains with me every year that I put a Christmas tree up and 50+ years has not change my feelings. My father made me put the ice sickles on the tree one piece at a time. If I put two or more on the tree I would get scolded. To this day and every tree I put up after I left home, not one of them ever had ice sickles on it.
    We also could not open our presents until one minute past midnight.

    Like

  3. AussieAlaskan permalink
    December 23, 2011 6:51 pm

    Beautiful story, Pete. And so nice you remember it. Love it!

    Happy holidays :-)

    Like

  4. Jon permalink
    December 25, 2011 9:35 am

    Pete,

    What a fantastic story. For you to recall this in such detail & tell it with the feeling you did, tells us all this was a very meaningful if not the most meaningful time of your childhood.

    Merry Christmas to all of you!! :))

    Jon

    Like

  5. Liz permalink
    December 27, 2011 12:50 pm

    You did good Pete. Thanks, I love history and your Christmas was surely different from ours, but wow. keep up the good work.

    Like

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